Palisades Park by Alan Brennert

“Palisades Park” by Alan Brennert  (2013) – 416 pages


I read “Palisades Park” about two months ago but delayed writing about the book.  But now it is almost Labor Day, and the amusement park / county and state fair season is almost over.  So here goes.

First I could print some of the lyrics of the old 1962 hit song, “Palisades Park” sung by Freddy Cannon (written by ‘The Gong Show’ guy Chuck Barris) as other reviewers of the book have done.  It would perhaps set the mood, but why bother?

Then I could tell about my great fascination with the carnival midways at the county fairs, state fairs, and especially the La Crosse Interstate Fair when I was a kid.  There were the carnival rides, the gyp tents, the daredevil acts, and the freak shows, but who cares?

I could describe the broad outlines of the story in “Palisades Park”.  The parents of Eddie Stopka take him to Palisades Park when he is ten years old, and that day Eddie already develops a lasting love of the Park.   A couple of years later his dad dies, his mother remarries, and then his new stepfather burns up Eddie’s treasured baseball card collection as a wicked form of punishment, so Eddie runs away and gets jobs as a roadie in the South setting up and taking down the carnivals at county fairs there.    Later he secretly returns to New Jersey, gets a job at Palisades, meets his wife there, and opens a French fry stand at the Park.  He has two kids, Antoinette (Toni) and Jack, who also have their own adventures at the Park.   The daughter Toni becomes one of the main characters in the story.

Thus we get nearly the entire history of the Park seen through the eyes of Eddie and his family.  We are there when the protests against the Park’s policy prohibiting blacks from using the pool begin.  Eddie and his family are on the good side of history as his daughter Toni joins the protests which are successful in integrating the Palisades Pool.

The years at Palisades Park that are covered in the book were a nostalgic time when the owners of the Park had the utmost respect for the people who worked for them and made sure all their workers were treated fairly and were adequately compensated.   At the same time Eddie does all he can to make life pleasant for visitors to the Park and to make Palisades Park a success.  One time Eddie has to rescue visitors from a raging fire.  Eddie is the solid rock around which the novel “Palisades Park” is built.

palisades_park“Palisades Park” probably won’t win any prizes for fine literature, but it is everything that a novel about life at an amusement park should be.  It held my interest throughout, and it made me care what happened to Eddie and his family.  There are some jolting surprises in the story, but they fit in with the life at Palisades Park.


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